By Chikelu Chinelo
At the peak of the August floods in Benue State, victims were expressly warned by authorities they will not benefit from relief materials sent to the camp if they remained in flooded areas.
Consequently, bereft of governmental and non-governmental support, two communities, Achusa and Naka Road, behind Federal Low Cost, some of the worst hit areas in Makurdi town are still struggling to resume their normal lives.
Several factors contributed to the greater number of both communities’ residents’ decision to weather the flood, and migrate to other areas of the city than move to the internally displaced persons camp at the Makurdi International Market.
These include; protection of property, risk of unemployment, discouraging reports from camp residents, and half-hearted hope of household data statistics collated by the NGOs coordinating body, Benue State Non-Governmental Organization Network (BENGONET), will fast-track aid to affected communities after the floods.
Located at floodplains, Achusa and Naka communities, best described as satellite areas, are largely inhabited by white-and-blue-collar employees who are unlikely to afford quick replacement of damaged household appliances and properties (building). They remained or returned each morning from their relatives’ or friends to watch over their property.
Landlord and chairman of Naka community, Ujila Andrew, returned to his flooded yard every morning for three weeks to keep an eye on his property. A month after, he is still air-drying wooden bed frames, and soggy mattresses, and repairing damaged flooring of his home.
In Achusa, mother of two, Juliet Yough, elevated sofas in her sitting room on sturdy stones, and hung up basic necessities like clothing on walls from the reach of ankle deep water in the house. She piggybacked her kids to the junction, two days after the rains to ensure they attend school. Uncertain of state of aid at the camp, she preferred to rough out the hunger, from inability to access food, over suffering same condition at the camp.
“Reports from the camp are not encouraging. After the flood, we have heard of relief materials and food shared by NGOs in several areas including unaffected area like Welfare Quarters, and lesser affected zone as Nyima, such aid didn’t get to Achusa,” Yough stated.
More worried about providing for his young family – a daughter, wife, and a couple dependents — Banker (First Bank), Joseph Asaka, reported to work, albeit a little late, after his family was accommodated at a friend’s home in another part of the town for three weeks. He stayed in Naka long enough to retrieve his submerged car.
“At that point maintaining a source of income and living with a friend was convenient than living in camp.”
Although both communities, didn’t expect much from authorities during the flood, they had hoped data collated by BENGONET, which played assistant, advisory and advocacy roles to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), during the flood, will guide government aid at the aftermath of the disaster.
Though guarded in his response, BENGONET Programme Officer, Emmanuel Ikule, confirmed data collation, initiated a day after the flooding began and handed over to SEMA, is to ensure efficient disbursement of intervention to all affected victims. Despite recording 5,000 households, from the Makurdi district, Achusa with an estimated 300 households and Naka a 116 household, Ikule said not all communities’ residents were captured. Some had migrated to other areas of Makurdi before data collation process.
Despairing of receiving government’s support two months after its initial visit to Achusa, with one successful intervention by the UNICEF in Naka, in the sensitization and disinfection of its wells, residents are making individual and community efforts to manage the recent disaster.
While drainages are blocked by discoloured stagnant water, muddy soil and mushy weeds, Achusa residents have begun cleaning-up their homes, air drying what can salvaged and tossing out damaged ones. Middle-aged mother and Voice Newspaper staff, who insists on anonymity, counts among damaged properties, her daughters’ college texts. Hunger and mattresses, she added, ranked second in her basic need. According to Ikule, the flood came at a most importune moment, during an economic downturn in the state, which saw lots of unpaid uncivil servants.
Blue-collar young father Bala Bam, and a graduate, Aulu Peter, yet to resettle in the Media Village are unemployed.
“Our (Achusa) major challenges are blocked drainages, and polluted water sources (wells),” says young Josephine Okpe, who lives with her parents and siblings at the Media Village.
Early in the year, Naka community fundraised N1.5m to build a temporary drainage, with the permission of the Water Resources agency. The drainage meant to head off water channels flowing from Achusa to the industrial layout, away from the community, held off March to July rains, until August’s torrential rainfall washed out the drainage, to flood the entire community.
But for subsided rainfall, community chairman, Ujila said the community would remain flooded. Currently, both communities are vulnerable to floods if urgent environmental disaster risk management is not taken.
LEADERSHIP’s chat with environmental expert, activist and certified waste manager, Victor Asobo, revealed the Benue State had no disaster management plan, which provides for an environmental management plan at sectoral levels.
This he said, makes unfeasible the harmonization of short, medium or long-term plans to address climate change activities or man-made disasters such as the recent flooding.
He blames residents and government’s lackadaisical attitude to environment, unplanned development of communities in floodplain areas such as Achusa among other Makurdi town areas as root causes of the flooding. In particular, he identified incumbent government’s construction of Makurdi Ring Road (which runs from Commissioner Headquarters to Mopol Barrack) sans an environmental impact assessment as another major contributor to the flooding.
With just a dry season “environmental audit’ on the project, Asobo says, drainages as natural phenomenon with their routes, “if blocked, swells and burst out in areas most convenient for its passage.”
A disaster management plan specifies in cases of flooding, short term plans to move people away from floodplain areas; a medium-term plan of five to six years to open up drainages and/or construct canals, and a long-term plan like building human capacity on disaster/environmental issue, and the designation of permanent plans to address climate change, afforestation, waste management amongst others.
Presently, flooding is the least of government’s worries in the aftermath of the disaster. “There is the matter of urban pollution resulting from indiscriminate waste dumping into waterways. The flood, rife with and oil, and dead battery pollutants, contaminates affected communities, gives rise to outbreak of diseases if concerned areas are not disinfected.”
Citing previous flooding in the state caused by the (natural) outburst of the Lado Dam in 2012, displacing ecological forest beings, Asobo said affected communities of the recent flood should be disinfected as Makurdi, Logo, Agatu, and Guma were fumigated in the aftermath of the disaster.
Asobo recommends proactive approach to environmental management, in addition to a 60 to 40 per cent built and landscaping policies to enforced by development control agency. “Environmental management plans should be strictly adhered to and enforced by agencies such as NESREA, sanitation and local government authorities.